By Nicholas K. Geranios Associated Press
SPOKANE — That shocking loss at San Francisco two weeks ago may have been just what No. 16 Gonzaga needed.
Steven Gray scored 19 points and Matt Bouldin added 16 as Gonzaga pounded San Diego 82-65 on Saturday night for its fourth consecutive win. The Zags remained in first place in the West Coast Conference, a position that seemed in peril after they lost to a team with a losing record on Jan. 30.
“I’m not happy we lost to San Francisco, but it was a great eye opener,” said Robert Sacre, who had 11 points and seven rebounds for the Zags. “We needed to step up our game. It helped us in a way.”
Since that overtime loss, Gonzaga (21-4, 9-1) has pounded its top two WCC rivals, Portland and Saint Mary’s, and won a non-conference game at Memphis.
San Diego (9-17, 2-9) offered little resistance.
The Zags opened the game with a 19-0 lead after five minutes and shot 73.9 percent in the first half.
“That shows we can’t be stopped when we play defense,” Sacre said. “We came out of the gate throwing punches.”
Reserve Manny Arop added a career-high 13 points and grabbed nine rebounds for Gonzaga, which finished with 56 percent shooting while holding the depleted Toreros to 41 percent.
“It felt like we were down a hundred to zip,” said San Diego coach Bill Grier, who spent 16 years as a Gonzaga assistant. “It’s the first time in a while that they had the deer in the headlight look. It happens in here.”
San Diego has lost nine of its past 10 games and is in the conference cellar. Leading scorer Brandon Johnson, hobbled by a groin injury, came off the bench to score 21 points and become the all-time leading scorer for the Toreros. Johnson also grabbed eight rebounds, even though he did not enter the game until eight minutes were gone.
“Having his experience on the floor certainly was part of getting us back in the game,” Grier said.
San Diego was also without second-leading scorer De’Jon Jackson, who sustained a career-ending knee injury last week.
The Toreros could barely get a shot off in the early going. They didn’t get on the scoreboard until 14:06 left when Patrick McCollum’s shot was swatted away by Gonzaga’s Will Foster, resulting in a goaltending call. McCollum made their first actual basket with 13 minutes left. But Gonzaga scored the next six points for a 27-4 lead.
“I did like that start,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That’s a great indication they were ready to go.”
Johnson finally went into the game with 12 minutes left in the first half and scored eight points to spark a 21-8 run that pulled the Toreros to 35-25. But the Zags outscored them 12-6 over the final five minutes for a 47-31 halftime lead.
San Diego got within 12 points early in the second half when a pair of free throws by Ken Rancifer cut Gonzaga’s lead to 55-43. Rancifer finished with 13 points.
But Arop scored nine of Gonzaga’s points during a 13-0 run that built a 68-43 lead with 10:52 left, and the Zags cruised from there.
“Manny had a great little stretch,” Few said.
Johnson came into the game needing five points to break the San Diego career scoring record of 1,725 points set by Gyno Pomare, who graduated last season.
Few now has the top winning percentage of an active college coach with at least five years experience at .802, a fraction ahead of Roy Williams of North Carolina.